By Ariele Johannson
Photos Credit: Vittoria Allen
January 4, 2015 (San Diego)--Christian Community Theater of El Cajon delivered a charming and amazingly comprehensive Christmas experience to theatre enthusiasts performed this year at the Don Powell Theatre on the campus of San Diego State University from December 19th through 23rd, 2014, with the 21st Annual Traditions of Christmas, A Musical Spectacular. San Diego theater enthusiasts enjoyed an evening of holiday cheer in the form of musical theater, performed to a live band conducted by Ryan Beard. The entire show from beginning to end was an absolute delight for all ages.
Top-notch performances by the cast sent the audience down memory lane through song and dance ensembles with gorgeous Victorian period costumes, modern couples’ dance numbers and Christmas carols, as well as an international “pageant” of Santa figures from twelve nations and cultural groups, story book Christmas characters including Frosty, Rudolf, Charlie Brown, Jack from Nightmare before Christmas, the toy soldiers from the Nutcracker Suite, and the Grinch. There were also rockette-type kick lines, as well as presentations of Christmas in San Diego, New York City and around the world. Each segment of the performance featured professional singing, dancing (including swing, ballroom, modern, and tap), colorful costumes, and special lighting (colors, snowflakes, shadows, and swirls) that delivered the celebration of Christmas in uplifting ways.
Child actors costumed as elves in fanciful attire of red, green, pink, and white (with striped stockings, curly shoes, vests, and hats) worked in Santa’s workshop with Mrs. Claus. The elves then cleaned the workshop in a “Stomp-style” theatrical ensemble as they filled the garbage cans and wastebaskets with the sounds of percussion. Then an endearing scene was created by Santa (Bryant Callihan) and Mrs. Claus (Laura Spafford) singing the duet “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” as she tried to get Santa to leave for his trip around the world.
The audience was treated to a salute to the military, with music and orchestration for each of the branches. With each successive song, members of that branch stood up in the audience to be recognized. Of course here in San Diego County, there were more individuals standing for Navy while Anchors A-Weigh was played than for any of the other branches. At the end of that scene, with the audience all standing, the house sang “God Bless America.”
The grand finale of a living nativity accompanied by narration and Christmas hymns by the choir was portrayed in a unique and startling way. An incredible giant representation of the angel Gabriel, played by Greg Good, garbed in white silk with fantastic wings, presided over the stage and told the story of that singular night in Bethlehem. Later, he was replaced by a loving couple on top of a hill with a real infant in a manger, portraying the new-born Christ child. This living nativity was seen by the audience through a thin transparent curtain like a veil, which cast a magical aura over the scene of shepherds, kings, the Holy Family, children, and barn yard animals. When two bedecked camels were led separately across the stage, dwarfing their handlers, the impression was breath-taking. The second camel even stopped in its tracks and looked out from the stage at the audience for several seconds before continuing on its way.
Two young beginners to live theater had plenty to say about the evening’s performance on December 22, 2014. After meeting and posing with Santa for pictures in a dedicated portion of the lower lobby, the children sat riveted throughout the sold-out show. Their favorites were “Santa’s Workshop” and “Everywhere You Look There’s a Christmas Story,” with their favorite characters coming to life. They were fascinated by watching actors their age perform with agility and confidence.
Most impressive to me—it was my first time viewing Traditions— was the stunning styles of nineteenth century period dress, as ladies in floor-length dresses with hoop skirts and men in their suits, scarves, and top hats danced around the stage changing partners. The living nativity as the last scene was perfect; for me, it brought together all of the previous acts, drawing me to the spiritual meaning behind Christmas. All of the dancing and singing by all of the actors, including the child actors, was flawless; as well as every aspect of the evening. Before the show and during intermission, the audience got to buy snacks and drinks outside. Inside tables were set up and decorated with handmade and crafted items for sale at reasonable prices providing a little holiday shopping experience.
Traditions of Christmas, A Musical Spectacular was directed and choreographed by Bobby Albright and Bethany Slomka. Musical directors Janie d’Avignon and Terry Hendricks worked alongside specialty choreographer KC Grulli-Miller. Christian Community Theatre and Christian Youth Theatre were both started by Sheryl and Paul Russell; and classes are offered to youth, who in turn perform fifteen shows annually in five different locations in San Diego. CCT and CYT are the organizations that brought Les Miserables when they returned to Mt. Helix this past summer. This summer in 2015 on the mountain, CCT will be performing Mary Poppins. CCT began in 1980 and has grown to be the largest community theater organization in San Diego County, with audiences of 120,000 a year.
Christian Community Theater and Christian Youth Theater are located at 1545 Pioneer Way in El Cajon, CA and can be reached at 619-588-0206. Currently, they are looking for a new home for their offices and costume/set warehouse.